Nice, A Fest 2022 Recap

Nice, A Fest came to Somerville for four days at the end of July '22....
Nice, a Fest
Nice, a Fest

The first night of Nice, A Fest kicked off on Thursday, 28th July in Somerville, MA at Crystal Ballroom. Headliners Cerce closed out the evening, with openers Leopard Print Taser, Space Camp, and The Infinity Ring

The music festival has grown in a year from a one-day event at Boynton Yards to a three-day event at two venues, featuring over 40 acts. Plus, an afterparty on Sunday and midnight screenings of the Wayne’s World duology. That’s a lot of buzz for Davis Square in the dog days of summer.

Crystal Ballroom

You could hardly ask for a better festival launchpad than the magisterial Crystal Ballroom. The location above Somerville Theater recently found new life as an event space, or as the Ballroom gang puts it themselves: “A bold new phoenix was able to sow opportunity from the devastation, rise from the ashes.” Indeed, a venue of mythological proportion is what’s needed for a music gala of epic ambition like Nice, A Fest. With beautiful high ceilings adorned with chandeliers, a proper hardwood recessed pit, and two bars front and back, Crystal Ballroom turned into the perfect punk playground for a Thursday night bill that leaned heavy into the hard stuff.

The Infinity Ring

Fest opener The Infinity Ring greeted the assembled crowd with post-rock gravity. The five-piece included three guitars, keyboard, and a man at the drums. No bass. The drummer did some heavy lifting, parsing the astral buzz of synth and string into digestible chunks. The tattooed frontman, bald and bathed in red light, looked like he washed down razor blades with Americano chasers. The dark & doomy mien of the rest of the band did nothing to dispute the impression.

Space Camp

Surprise revelation of the night Space Camp took the stage after some soundcheck salsa. The timetable of Nice, A Fest is wildly optimistic. Bands (barring headliners) are slotted for 30-minute sets with 15-minute pauses to break down and set up. This will turn into a thing during the eleven-hour bills on Saturday. But it’s not for Space Camp to worry about. The electro-punk two-piece brought hardcore energy to their set. A manic dynamic played out between the keyboard and drums, a real call & response vibe born out of two musicians that know each other well. Shades of Matt & Kim. Shades of Gay Against You in terms of aggro joy. After the unfortunate loss of doomcore SEED from the bill, Space Camp came to the rescue.

Leopard Print Taser

Somerville’s own Leopard Print Taser kept the punk rock fires flaming. The four-piece played loud, mostly fast, with built-in breaks for the guitar, bass, and drums to strut their stuff. The band sports a showstopping fronter with a multi-tool skill set of vox, guitar, bubble blower, and pizzazz. The crowd ate it up.


Headliner Cerce wins the award for having their name on the most band t-shirts in Crystal Ballroom. Their fans showed up. Cerce’s sound is heavy, bright, loud, and fun. They’ve got party punk vibes, throwing in everything plus the kitchen sink to start shit. Shades of Everyone Gets Laid. It was the perfect soundtrack for sampling the Picklet, a gimlet concocted with a festival sponsor’s pickle juice. The bar staff will give you a strange and worried look if you order it. And if you’re lucky, they’ll be too embarrassed to charge you.

Nice, A Fest continued Friday at two venues, The Rockwell and an encore at Crystal Ballroom. If the soundcheck salsa stalled the schedule, you could ice yourself over with a chill Picklet and just enjoy the vibes.

The second night of Nice, A Fest on Friday, July 29th premiered the double-barreled action of two venues, Crystal Ballroom and The Rockwell, hosting the same music festival with different lineups. Fans percolated back and forth between stages throughout the night, and, if you survived until midnight, caught an after-hours screening of Wayne’s World at Somerville Theater.

The Rockwell

The Rockwell offered a cool respite from the July heat. The black box theater, located thirteen stories beneath the Earth’s upper crust, has a long and storied history in Davis Square. Its latest incarnation finds new life post-pandemic with a calendar full of music, theater, comedy, and more. In its music mode, fans occupy the central pit for an up-close live experience. If your energy is starting to flag, you can take a breather in seats along the wall or duck out to the hall for beer, wine, and spirits. No word on whether the bar offers Picklets.


Pisha brought the energy to kick off Friday’s slate of music at The Rockwell. The Oklahoman artist has local roots and performs as a trio with guitar, bass, vox and backing tracks. There’s a pop-grind punch to Pisha’s sound. The breathy electro steez flirts with Madonna-core, circa Ray of Light. Shout out to the bassist and guitarist, who conspired some pink spray paint shenanigans all over their body.

Olivia Sisay

Surprise of the night was Olivia Sisay. If you listened to her single, “Good For Tonight”, you knew she could deliver the synth-dripped R&B. But you might not expect her to open the set with an acoustic strapped to the torso for some still-my-beating-heart ballads. Sisay promised “to make you cry” before dropping the more danceable tracks. She wasn’t kidding – there were a few tears in the crowd. Olivia Sisay cuts to the emotional quick in all the right ways.


Maneka just flew in from Connecticut, and boy, were his wings tired. The three-piece is led by guitarist Devin McKnight plays heavy-riffing art-rock with a fondness for throwback musical accents. If you listened to any of the band’s forthcoming Dark Matters, a polyglot of sonic style, you might expect a wider-ranging sampling of sounds in the live show. But Maneka kept the focus tight and dug deeper into the eminently shreddable Roadhaus vibe. Extra points for McKnight’s WrestleMania t-shirt.

Pet Fox

Not to fixate on t-shirts, but Nice, A Fest-veterans Pet Fox rocked the plain white Ts upfront. Were they short of laundry on the road, opting for fresh duds at the nearest offramp Target? Regardless, the three-piece of guitar, bass, and drums sounds like road warriors, serving up polished cuts from their new album A Face In Your Life. To call the band post-punk is accurate, but a little misleading. Pet Fox is throwback post-punk, when all the term meant was whatever the hell comes after punk and hadn’t calcified into a specific style. Hearing the band live you can appreciate the different musical eureka moments of jazz, prog, no wave, and more, that worm their way into the compositions.

Shout to the Pet Fox frontman for kinda looking like pro cyclist Primoz Roglic. Primoz, my man, you struggled in the Tour de France, but you’ll be back better than ever in La Vuelta! All hail Slovenia!


Kitner plays a jangly guitar-driven rock n roll sound that harks back to the non-grunge college rock of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Think: The Replacements, Sugar, Soul Asylum – that ballpark. The four-piece, consisting of two guitars, one bass, and drums, played tracks off their latest LP Shake The Spins and more. The mix was tight and the guitars sounded clean and full and bright, not syruped in the generic soup of catchall distortion.

Skylar Simone

The prize for first true mosh pit of the night goes to Skylar Symone. This crew rolls deep, and Symone has a following that’s down to party. The fronter was dressed for risky business, with an open-chested magical mystery tour vest and nothing underneath except some strategically-placed flesh-colored nipple tape. Free the nipple, but not tonight. Extra points to the lead guitarist who hurt themselves skateboarding (the skate park is apparently where all band members are recruited) and toughed it out, Picasso blue period-style.


Another road warrior band Evolfo came into The Rockwell ready to roar. The six-piece includes two guitars, one bass, keys, horn, and drums, and every bit of that sonic spectrum lights up in their dense psych funk. God bless the horn – it cut a clean and beautiful line through the walls of strings. If you listened to their most recent album, the superlative Site Out of Mind, you expect the latter day yippie phreak sound, but hearing a little funk fed through the phreak phonic philter felt fabulous. Ow!

Mike's Food & Spirits

If you’re not getting pizza & beer from Mike’s Food and Spirits between sets, what’s wrong with you? Look at this slice! The longtime neighborhood fixture looks great these days and it’s located right between the two Nice, A Fest venues. Wall to wall sports TV, airing games you actually want to watch. Back in the day the loveable and occasionally ornery owner would tune the channel to harness racing all day long. Not sure he gambled – just liked to see the horsies go. But I think the younger generation has taken over and made a few editorial decisions. Good choice!


Squitch! Squitch! Squitch! It’s the name you can’t stop chanting. The crowd showed up for Boston-based band and it felt like the perfect show for The Rockwell, letting the fans slide right up to the monitors for an intimate experience. Squitch’s live show has a bit warmer sound than you might expect from the angular and elevating Learn To Be Alone.

Colleen Green

We warned you that Colleen Green sold out shows around town. Sure enough, Crystal Ballroom hit capacity as her set started, and fans queued up at the door trying to get in. Green has a long list of stoner punk standards, but you were likely to hear more than a few tracks off her latest LP Cool. Shout out to birfday boy Jeff!

Dirt Buyer

Dirt Buyer closed out the night at the Rockwell. Some artists treat the final spot on the bill as a solemn mantle, a grave responsibility, a noble assignment to be endured like Jimi Hendrix staying up ‘til dawn so he could close Woodstock. Dirt Buyer was more like, whatever, and it worked all the same. The three-piece sounds heavier in person than on the marvelous, moony self-titled LP Dirt Buyer. The frontman does the heavy lifting in terms of crowd banter and seems happy to shine in the spotlight. Extra points for the guitar body sculpture art sending out the heart-shaped box vibes.

Hard to believe Nice, A Fest would ramp up further on Day Three with both venues buzzing and a bill lasting all day and night. It’s a fun challenge to skate between venues, trying to catch your perfect lineup. From The Color and Sound, to Talk Chalk, to Bowling Shoes, to House of Harm, to Born Without Bones and back again. But one shouldn’t get caught out on the sidewalk when the venue hits capacity or you might miss a headliner like Future Teens and have nothing to show for the rest of the night except pizza and beer at Mike’s. Oh, and Wayne’s World.

The third and not final installment of Nice, A Fest raised the stakes once more, stretching the bill across the whole day in addition to the night of Saturday, July 30th. Both The Rockwell and Crystal Ballroom were rocking. There was a slight de-sync of the schedules between the two venues, so if you timed things just right, you could catch twice the artists and still squeeze the whole Nice, A Fest circus into the Ballroom together to hear the headliner Speedy Ortiz play into the morning hours.

Keytar Bear

If you were making the rounds between venues, you likely ran into Keytar Bear more than once. The Boston music-making ursine legend has been an unpredictable fixture at pedestrian traffic choke points for more than a decade. KB kept the Davis Square intersection vibing all afternoon.

The music started early at The Rockwell, in the cool, subterranean temperatures thirteen floors below the Earth’s upper crust, among the fossilized remains of dinosaurs, lakes of undiscovered petroleum, and secret untapped veins of precious gems. Massachusetts old soul took the stage, followed by Addie, Children of the Flaming Wheel, and a righteous, noise-stomping one-two punch of Gollylagging and Stoughton’s Crescent Ridge.


Meanwhile at Crystal Ballroom the kickoff honors went to Trash Rabbit, followed by the chiptune glory of (T-T)b, and local nice guys Kind Being. The four-piece Layzi picked up the baton. The band sports the classic two guitars, one bass, and drums combo to turn out dream pop fit for a nice afternoon stone. Shades of The Cardigans.


Twen was a pleasant surprise. If you listened to the single “Feeling In Love (From the Waist Down)” off their most recent LP One Stop Shop, you knew the five-piece band had a satisfying throwback sound. But you might have heard mostly ‘70s notes. Twen announced their love of more recent Britpop loud and clear, mixing in an Oasis cover of “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. From then on a thousand points of contact between ‘90s pop came into focus. Shades of Alanis Morissette with the strong fronting vocals owning the rock ‘n roll sound. Extra points to the drummer for making sweet love to those skins.

Pink Navel

Pink Navel might have had a monopoly on hip-hop at Nice, A Fest. It was a nice change of pace, as the mask-less man behind the mask Devin Bailey performed tracks off his latest LP Epic along with some old favorites. The artist brings a mix-master intensity to his live shows. He’s no karaoke rapper, goofing against a wall of pre-recorded tracks. Expect to never hear the same song twice as he tweaks the knobs and fiddles the switches on the fly. Count yourself lucky if you picked up one the ten remaining vinyl copies of Epic at the merch table because they’re not available on Bandcamp. Shout out to the Star Wars Discourse.

Really Great

Really Great wins the award for recruiting the youngest music fan. This little kid went super viral on all social media platforms, jamming out to tunes from the four-piece’s latest LP So Far, No Good. The adorable tyke will be making the talk show rounds on The View, Good Morning America, Fox & Friends, and regrettably, Tucker Carlson. When asked to comment on his fiery brand of firebrand preschool politics, the child drooled, picked his nose, and exclaimed, “Weezer vibes!”

Evil Felipe

Evil Felipe kept the ball rolling at The Rockwell. The four-piece sported the classic two guitars, one bass, and drums combo to punchy effect. The frontgals traded vocal duties. Rumor has it they were giving away disposable cameras for free at the merch table. America is a truly great country!

Haasan Barclay

Meanwhile at the Crystal Ballroom, Bat House and Shallow Pools traded the spotlight. Haasan Barclay followed. If you listened to his latest electro hit parade DUAL SHOCK, you were probably wondering how the Pro Tools vibe would translate to the live show at the Crystal Ballroom. Barclay threw the audience a curveball by leaning on a cherry red guitar throughout the set, distancing his sound a bit from the ambiance of the album. The live instrumentation holds beautiful possibilities – you wonder how the set might sound with a live drummer (and maybe a bassist) to pull the performance out of the digital realm and even further into a righteous analog bubble bath.

Lady Pills

Another surprise/not-surprise of the evening were the rock n roll stylings of Lady Pills. Previously painted the three-piece as rock, “with the beating heart of country,” after listening to their single “Daughter”, and we’re going to die on that hill! Granted, the band kicks out rock jams aplenty, but the voice that floated above the set at Crystal Ballroom longs for the tall sweet grass of cattle country.

Hallelujah The Hills

Hallelujah The Hills brought their own props and were set to light up their anthemic indie rock as the sun set on Davis Square. The six-piece rolls deep, with keys/horn, violin, guitar/vox, bass, guitar/keys, and drums being the usual assignments. They played selections from their latest LP, the distinguished I’m You, along with old favorites. There is a kind of inner momentum to a HTH’s show (and most of their songs) that builds up over time, and grabs you, and pulls you along. When it was time to play the last song, the crowd wasn’t ready to let them go, but the stage schedule of an eleventh-hour bill rules everything around us. Extra points for weighing in on the Keytar Bear Discourse.

Meanwhile Circus Trees, Zola Simone, and Mallcops were holding it down at the Rockwell.

Rat Tally

Chicago’s Rat Tally returned to the east coast to play The Rockwell. The band has some local roots. Fans and friends were in attendance for the indie pop rock and the set had a fun, homie vibe. Rumor has it Rat Tally is putting out a new album on August 12th.

Kal Marks

Boston’s Kal Marks ripped it up next at The Rockwell. Rumor has it that the four-piece was selling early copies of their new record My Name Is Hell at the merch table, a bit before the official release. We heard plenty of new tracks off the new album, plus some old chestnuts. A Kal Marks show comes with its own type of intensity. Sometimes that’s just in the howling squall of a dissonant guitar; other times it’s acted out in the crowd. There was a righteous little mosh pit going there for a hot minute. All good, all fun, all in a day’s work. The crowd wasn’t ready to giving the band up when the set time witching hour struck.


Raavi closed out the night at The Rockwell. The four-piece band includes two guitars, bass, and drums – did we recognize a guitarist from Pisha making an encore performance with Raavi? Raavi the band takes most of its musical direction from Raavi the person. They play a brand of thoughtful indie rock that can shred fast & loose or play it soft & low. You can expect a new single on label Hardly Art coming out September 22nd. Check it out.

Speedy Ortiz
Speedy Ortiz

Meanwhile Rebuilder and Weakened Friends were holding it down at Crystal Ballroom. If you timed it right, you could catch Raavi closing at The Rockwell then hoof it over to the Ballroom for headliner Speedy Ortiz. The local legend is no longer local, but still a legend. It was a crowded house, standing room only. Shout out to Sadie Dupuis for writing a song about scabs. Is that about union-busters or the epidermis? Who can say for sure, art is subjective. For example, Wayne’s World 2 might be the best film ever committed to celluloid. Who can say for sure?

If you had it in you, there was a fourth day of Nice, A Fest that unfolded on Sunday. Gratis for three-day passholders, otherwise tickets were available to purchase. Call it Nice, An Afterparty at The Rockwell. The pickle-based cocktails were still on the menu. Come Monday you can be mean again.

The fourth and final night of Nice, A Fest concluded in the hallowed depths of The Rockwell on a sleepy Sunday, July 31st. The event was officially billed as an ‘afterparty’ of the music festival. If you still were rocking your three-day wrist-pass from Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – which is kinda gross, let’s be honest – admission was free. Boston locals Black Beach headlined with Anna Fox Rochinski, Doll Spirit Vessel, and Gut Health in support.

Pickle juice from the ubiquitous pickle sponsor was reportedly available behind the bar for mixing into Pickleback-type concoctions, though The Rockwell lacks a full bar and mostly leans on pre-made cocktails. Is the to-go pandemic cocktail still a thing? Is it the kind of service or product that crops up in times of crisis and, suddenly, no one can imagine life without it after the crisis subsides?

Doll Spirit Vessel

Gut Health opened the last set of the 2022 edition of Nice, A Fest. Doll Spirit Vessel followed, clocking a Somerville show while on tour. The four-piece indie rockers come tantalizingly close to being able to pull off a 4 Non Blondes band costume for Halloween – the hazel-haired drummer has to get on board. DSV’s frontwoman has a powerful voice that carries songs to interesting places. You’d like to hear the other instruments open up the compositions a bit more. The arrangements at times still feel like solo acoustic numbers, which is how a lot of songs get written, but not how they get performed in the band concept.

Anna Fox Rochinski

It was a treat to catch Anna Fox Rochinski’s latest project apart from Quilt. She’s assembled a five-piece with some local flavor, consisting of two keys, bass, drums, and herself on guitar and vocals. While she’s the animating creative force in the group, Rochinski is clearly looking for more than a singer-songwriter platform with the band. The compositions contain a lot of details, electronic curlicues made possible by three banks of keyboards. The five-piece sounded best when they found their danceable groove with a strong rhythm section and swept aside the fuss. Shades of Luscious Jackson.

Black Beach

Headliner Black Beach closed out the now four-day festival with a trim art-core attack. It’s not quite Jimi Hendrix closing out Woodstock in the rosy-fingered dawn, firing up the Star-Spangled Banner, but there was a certain grandeur given the epic scope of Nice, A Fest. Three days of music is nothing to sniff at, let alone four. Previously a one-day event at Boynton Yards, the festival ballooned to four days at two venues (three, if you rightly count Somerville Theater). In truth the music event probably did not need to be so massive. A tighter two-day bill would have been a satisfying experience with maybe a more focused personality. But sometimes you go big just to see how big you can go. Every artist on the bill remarked on the smooth operation and good vibes, so chalk it up as a great success.

The local trio of guitar, bass, and drums pack a No Wave wallop. There’s a ripping loud-quiet-loud dynamic in Black Beach’s sound that can get the crowd moving on your average night. On Sunday though the response was appreciative but a little mute. The Scaries had taken hold of many who were probably still shaking off a hangover from the previous nights of music. A pickle juice-based cocktail is probably not in the cards for a while.

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